u2-achtungTread water long enough and you’ll drown.

Right? Must we be shark-like? Sharks must move forward or die (it moves water through their lungs).

It happens to all of us. Ossification leads to suffering. Failing. Being not as good.

It happens to marriages, friendships, professional athletes, and bands (other things too). We must be as a shark.

U2 didn’t want that to happen to them. They decided for album number seven they must uproot and record outside of Ireland. They decided on Berlin. The Wall was down. The Cold War was ending. Europe was renewing. U2 thought that they could feed off that energy. They were to be as a shark.

The way to musical heaven is paved with good intentions. Birth is not easy. Re-birth even harder. Berlin was not playing nice. The winter was beating them down. The hotel wasn’t great. The recording sessions were tense. Edge was listening to a lot of electronic music. NIN, Einstürzende Neubauten etc. The rhythm section was heading in a different direction listening to Hendrix, Cream and the like. Mullen didn’t like that Bono and Edge were playing around with drum machines and dance remixes. Feeling a bit unappreciated and as U2’s drummer one could read it that way, right?

Bono and The Edge were writing together and getting away from starting “blank” in studio and building songs as a band. This lead to a bad time in the studio. Add this to the fact that The Edge was leading them away from “classic” U2 sounds.

U2 were deliberating breaking up. “One” and a Christmas break came at a perfect time. “One” came to together…well together. The whole band worked on the song. Could a song save a recording session? Could it save a band?

U2 went to Dublin for the holidays. Chatted and decided that they should/could continue as a band. Thankfully.

They brought in Eno…just to help out for a few days. Check things out. U2 were not happy with the Berlin session. Eno told them it was better than U2 thought the sessions were. They listened with new ears and agreed. U2 (and I’m sure others) credit Eno with “saving” the Berlin sessions after he remixed them. U2 were too close to the music and Eno brought back the “rock band” in to the mix. Literally.

Berlin only gave them 2 songs but U2 knew they were finally on to something. They went back to Ireland for further recording sessions.

I was in college. Loved music but we barely had an internet. Hell, just having a computer was something special. I had no idea what U2 were up too. I had no idea they were going to change their sound scape so radically. U2 had a sound and they were going to fuck with it and you…and me. And I loved it. As soon as I heard their single’s opening riff…I knew it was going to a brilliant album. It quickly turned into my favorite U2 album. Still is. Now for most die hard U2 fans it took awhile for them to come around to the full gloriousness of “Achtung Baby”. Different is good. In the early 90s when I would talk U2 with U2 fans (definitely of a certain age) and I would mention that “Achtung Baby” was my favorite album; they would tilt their heads as if they were dog trying to figure out the world. Almost saying “what the hell is wrong with this guy?” (a lot…I know the guy and there’s a lot).

This was the riff (thanks for the correction Mark)

Anthemic was U2. This new U2 (and especially The Edge) was incorporating more solos, dissonance, and feedback. Add to that the Industrial influences and guitar effects. U2 were soaking in the different influences of the day.

More evidence that this was a new U2.

Bono wrote the lyrics. Again messing with a winning streak (and usually you don’t want to do that and usually that doesn’t work but this was a good move). U2 lyrics had been mostly politically and socially charged. “Achtung Baby” is more personal. Bono takes on love, betrayal, spirituality, faith, and did I mention betrayal. A lot of that came from the fact that Edge was going through a divorce. Also adding to the lyrics were Bono’s 2 “new borns”. Both daughters.

Bono imagines a conversation between Jesus and Judas in this rocker. I did mention Bono was exploring betrayal, religion, and faith…

The song that came together in Berlin and may have saved the band. Also a song covered on my fake holiday review so many moons ago.

I heard U2 wanted the opening to sound as if the CD were broken. Talk about a brilliant way to announce a new U2 on an album. Distortion baby. Like most, “The Fly” was the first listen but holy balls this opener grabbed me and took a hold. I was ready for new U2.

This song may ring more true than when it was written in 1991. Well probably written in 1990. Especially after all that has happened in the world recently. We are living in a post truth world. People don’t care or couldn’t be bothered to do a quick google search to find out if something is true. Does their thinking go like this? I like the echo chamber (it makes me feel part of something) and this fake “news” story proves my point so “hell yeah I’m re-posting this” and/or take your fancy learning and piss off. When talking about this song U2 said “When people were no longer looking for the truth, [they] were all looking for instant gratification”. Supposedly “Trashy” and “throwaway” were among the band’s buzzwords during recording of this song (and the album).

Full album via video

A truly amazing album. You might be saying, “Nothing will ever touch Joshua Tree for me.” That’s fine. You are allowed to be wrong. Kidding (kinda). Mostly kidding. Music is individual. I get that. You are right. I am right (not always but quite sure this time). We are both right (but I’m probably more right.). Now give it a listen and enjoy it all.

I’m running out of time for my 91 is 25 posts but I’ll do/be better. Maybe. We did just get a puppy. It’s like a third kid. Bowie is taking up a lot of my time.

We chatted about Pearl Jam already. Still want to cover Metallica, Nirvana, SRV, REM, Pixies, RCHP, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and so many more. Many, many more. I told you 1991 was a crazy glorious musical year.

3 Comments

  • ‘From the Sky Down’ is essential viewing for anyone who is as enamored with this record as many of us are… brilliant documentary.

  • I have been a big U2 fan from the very first time I put “Boy” on the turntable in the offices of WSLN (OWU student run radio), and heard that opening guitar riff of “I Will Follow,” so I know how you feel when you say about Achtung Baby, “As soon as I heard their single’s opening riff…I knew it was going to a brilliant album.” While many U2 songs have touched me, just three songs from U2 have grabbed me and held me from the very opening notes, the very first time I heard them: “I Will Follow,” “New Years Day,” and from Achtung Baby, it was, “Mysterious Ways.” I knew then and there that Achtung Baby was a winner. Is it my favorite? Impossible to say. I’m still grappling with the idea that it is 25 years old (not to mention how old Boy is)!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.